Thursday, October 10, 2013

Camino de Santiago Map with Elevation Profile

Here is a new web map I made using the ArcGis mapping application.  It shows the elevation profile of the Camino Frances route of the Camino de Santiago together with some waypoints.  The gpx file with the track and way points are courtesy of Peter Schloefell:

It might take some time to load up, but be patient. Zoom in to the portion you want to see, then click on the track. When it becomes blue, the elevation profile will show up.

Camino de Santiago Map with Elevation Profile

Friday, August 23, 2013

Budget for the Camino de Santiago

One of the very first things you need to consider when you plan your Camino de Santiago, is to determine how much you need to budget for the walk.  I was just asked this question and I remember that this was also one of the first things I needed to think about. I hope to answer that in this blog post.

Basically, once you are at the start of the Camino, and you have all your equipment with you, and plan to walk the entire way, then your costs will only be for lodging and food, and maybe washing/drying if you do not want to do laundry by hand.


On the Camino Frances, lodging costs run from 5 to 10 euros a day if you are planning to stay in the municipal albergues, or from 8 to 15 euros if you stay at a private hostel.

Maybe twice during the walk, we splurged on a double room for about 20-25 euros each. Some albergues are actually donativos, or by donation, in which case you can donate whatever you want.  I believe one should always donate something, at the very least from 5 to 15 euros or more, and do it once you step in the door, as you might forget before you leave.  The municipal albergues usually have bunk beds (in some like Viana and Villadangos de Paramo, even triple bunk beds) in big halls shared with a number of people, so you have to remember to bring earplugs as it can be quite difficult to sleep at night.  Generally, though, it is lights out at 10 pm and there is a curfew also around that time, so you will sleep quite well after a day's walk.  I had no problems at all with any of the municipal albergues I stayed in.  I remember them all as quite clean and the beds comfortable.  Once in a while, though, you may want a bit more quiet and space, so you stay at a private hostel.  It may be a little more expensive, from 8 to 15 euros but sometimes there are less people to a room.  I remember though, that the municipal albergue in Ponferrada was a donativo, and there were only 4 to a room.  By the way, some albergues may not have heating. This will matter in the cold weather. We traveled in spring, with temperatures from 5 to 10 degrees Celsius.  I had a light down sleeping bag and wool sleepwear, so I was quite warm even in the albergues with no heating.  Usually they have wool blankets that you can use, so I put one or even two if available, over my sleeping bag.

Food and Water

In terms of food, you can make do with from 10 - 25 euros a day, depending on if you prepare the food yourself or eat out.

Sometimes, the bed cost also includes a simple breakfast, usually coffee, and bread with jam and butter, and once in a while, with some meats.  If the breakfast is not included, you can just stop at any cafe and get an espresso for 1 euro or a cafe con leche or milk coffee for 1.20 to 1.50 euros.  A croissant or pan neapolitana (chocolate croissant) would be about 1 euro. A set breakfast of bread, butter and jam, coffee would be around 4-6 euros. Once in a while, we would indulge in a full breakfast with bacon and eggs, coffee and a freshly squeezed orange juice and it would cost from 6 to 10.  Normally, we would just bring a picnic for lunch, such as a bocadillo, which you could buy from some stores (from 2.50 to 5 euros) or can make yourself for even less.  A bocadillo is actually a sandwich made from a baguette (50 cents to a euro) with different fillings of either meats (chorizos, ham) or even tortilla con patata (potato omelettes).

Spain coffee culture
Lots of restaurants usually offer a pilgrim meal for lunch and dinner which is a great deal for around 8 to 12 euros.  This would include a salad, a main course, a dessert and all the wine and/or water you can drink.  For lunch, though, this might be too much as you need to walk again, so sometimes, my sister and I would just share a pilgrim meal, or grab a bocadillo. During our walks, we would also oftentimes stop for a coffee or an Aquarius energy drink.  Usually, for dinner, we would have a pilgrim meal, allowing us to try out some of Spain's regional specialties, which are usually offered in this menu. This usually comes with wine, although you can also ask for a beer instead of the wine (which we sometimes did). Vegetarians also usually will have a choice in the pilgrim menu, or you can just ask them to leave out the meat.

In the Rioja region, starting from Logroño, there were a lot of places with tapas, or little plates of food, which I really love! The common ones that are quite filling are the tortillas de patata, callos (tripe stew with chickpeas), chorizos on bread and just about everything -- they're all good!  An order or one serving is called a pincho and would cost from 1.50 to 2 euros.  Three of these would be a meal for me.

You can make do with much less, if you just have a picnic for lunch and cook for dinner.  If the albergue has a kitchen, and you just buy food and cook -- then a meal of say, pasta or rice with eggs and sardines would cost less than 3 euros each! It is also a great chance to interact with other pilgrims. Sometimes, a group of pilgrims would plan, buy and share a meal with each other. Sometimes, I would join a group of pilgrims who would organize themselves and go out for dinner at a restaurant.  For my sister and I, we saw the walk also as a chance to try the local cuisine, so we tried the tapas and wine in the Riojan region like Logroño, the trucha (trout) in Roncesvalles, the cocido maragato (boiled meats) in the Astorga area, caldo gallego (cabbage soup) in Galicia,  pulpo (octupus) in Melide, and churros con chocolate and paella everywhere.   The food in Spain is great!

Tapas, tapas, tapas!!!
The meals I remember quite well were the ones shared with me by pilgrims, like the rice, tuna and egg with the Korean guys Edison, Jay and Tong in Puente la Reina, the shared communal meal in Tosantos caringly prepared by Jose Luis, the pasta given by Josef in Atapuerca when we were incredibly hungry. It was the act of breaking bread and sharing that added an extra flavor to the meal.  It is true that man does not live on bread alone.

If it might seem by now that all we did was eat on the Camino -- I think part of going to another country is enjoying its culture, and food is part of the culture.  So many of the foods in Spain, I recognize in the food of my own country, the Philippines, as we were colonized by Spain for more than 300 years.  Ferdinand Magellan landed in Mactan in the Philippines in 1521 and proceeded to "claim the islands for Spain" (how anyone can just come and claim a group of islands and people, I don't know!), and this lasted until June 12, 1898 when the Philippines and the Filipino people declared its independence from Spain. Anyway, this period of history lives on in our food, as well as in the Filipino language which is sprinkled with Spanish words (like kuchara, lamesa, baso -- related to eating again).

Spanish food
About water, we did not have to buy any bottled water.  We just filled up our water bottles and backpack bladder with water from the fountains/faucets along the way (as long as it says agua potable or potable water), and before leaving in the morning, filled up from the albergue kitchen tap water.  A beer and/or wine is also very reasonably priced, about 1-1.50 euro for a glass.  A bottle of a reasonable red wine at the grocery could cost maybe from 2-4 euros, but we just normally had wine which went with the pilgrim meal.


At some point, you will need to wash your clothes.  Usually, albergues have a washing area.  It's easier if you have some washing liquid with you and handwash some clothes, which I did when I was walking alone.  Later, we would do laundry with my sister every few days or so at some albergues who had washing/drying facilities. This would cost from 3 to 6 euros for a load.  At several places, we paid from 6-9 euros and the albergue just took our clothes and it came back to us washed and dried. Wonderful!

In summary, it would be reasonable to allocate a daily budget in the Camino of about 30-40 Euros a day for lodging, meals and the occasional laundry. If you plan to stay only at the municipal lodgings and buy and cook your own food, then you can bring maybe 10 euros less. If you plan to stay once in a while at private hostels and take the occasional single/double room, then just add another 10-20 euros to this amount, or  budget of 40 to 50 euros/day.

I somehow think that any more luxury than that would really not feel like a pilgrim experience any more.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Updated Packing List for the Camino de Santiago

While planning for the camino, I compiled packing lists based on research I did on the internet.  I came up with a final list to bring in my blog post What to bring to the Camino/Packing List -- which I have updated with some other things I brought along.

Looking back, I am happy that I took the time to plan what to bring and I am glad to say that I brought exactly the right stuff for a late Spring (March-April) hike.  My 28 liter backpack was filled just right, with my total walking weight varying from 5 to 8 kilos.  Okay, I actually spent a lot of time weighing everything on a kitchen scale, shaving ounces here and there.  I also looked for the lightest weight stuff with maximum function that I could bring.  I found a 600 gram down sleeping bag that worked perfectly for me. Yes, you need less than what you think you need.  Remember that you will be carrying all these yourself.  There were a number of pilgrims who were leaving things behind as they walked along.  You can prevent that by just bringing what you need. And what you do not have usually you can buy or sometimes, as we found, the Camino provides.  (It seems now that, always, when I pack for a weekend trip, I bring 4 times as much as I brought on my month-long Camino!)

There was one thing that was not in my original packing list but added at the last minute.  It was an Ortlieb drybag (12 liters) with a compression valve.  This allowed me to just stuff all my clothes in one place and compress them so that they all fit in my small pack.  It was also great to have a toiletries bag so all of my toiletries were organized in one place.

Later during the walk, I bought a trekking pole which was helpful but maybe not totally necessary.  In fact, I forgot it at an albergue.  For those who have problems with their knees, though, I think that having trekking poles would be a good idea, as they help stabilize you, specially on downhill portions.  Just know how to use them right, otherwise, they will be more of a burden than a help to you.  (See:  I realized I was not using my trekking pole right when Joe commented about it.)

Other things that I should have brought more of, but in the end was able to buy along the way are the following: Voltaren gel for aches and pains, Melchfett/Hirschtalg ointments and Compeed blister stick and blister pads.  You must have noticed that the additional stuff are all for taking care of my feet. 

I left behind my Swiss knife because I just wanted to bring a handcarry on the plane.  I instead brought a small Opinel folding knife with a 6 cm blade which was acceptable on European flights.  It was really a great thing to have.  You can buy them in France or Spain and are just perfect for cutting cheese and bread and tomatoes for the picnics we had.

Here are just some other thoughts regarding packing and other things you may need.

1. Break in your shoes

As you probably read in every other packing list, the most important thing on your walk is your boots. Make sure they are comfortable and break them in.  I used Lowa Goretex leather boots for my walk and got a total of 2 blisters. I had some trouble at the start because I had made a last minute boot switch and was not able to break them in completely, but they were great.  I was happy with them because it was a bit cold during my walk, plus there was a lot of mud and rain. Others wore running shoes. One that I would consider using next time would be Salomon trail runners XA Pro 3d Ultra2 which was worn by some people and did not give them trouble.  This does not discount the small possibility that your shoes might suddenly disappear, which happened for my sister (I do not think this really happens often -- we were just lucky ???).  In this case, just hope there is a good shoe store where you are, and that the shoes you get will fit.

2. Care for your feet

As I walked the Camino, I realized how important it was to care for your feet and legs.  My sister and I massaged our calves and feet before sleeping.  Another tip I got from some other pilgrims is to lather on some ointment/salves on your feet before walking.  Maria, from Spain, used alcohol de Romero after which she used a Compeed blister stick on areas prone to blisters. The two Tinas shared with us something called Melchfett (I saw this only in Germany) and Hirschtalg (loosely translated as "deer tallow"). We used them and they were great.  Most times I also massaged Voltaren gel on my aching muscles. I also drank some little arnica homeopathic pills once in a while, which is supposed to bring down inflammation and swelling. The first few days I also drank some anti-inflammatory tablets -- I am not sure they are such a good idea as they may cause some side effects and overtax some organs. I think I would not do that next time but instead just remember to massage my legs with the Voltaren gel.

3. Test your gear

 Make sure that everything works and that you are comfortable with them.  My sister forgot to test her Camelbak bladder and it was leaking on the first day. We had to leave it behind.

4.  Make sure your waterproof jacket is really waterproof

It does rain a lot in Spain as we found out -- and when it rains, it really pours, so make sure your waterproof jacket is truly waterproof (my Goretex jacket worked quite well).  It is also nice to have a raincover on your backpack, and to ensure that your stuff inside stays dry -- to have a drybag inside.  It is better and easier to pack with one drybag than a lot of separate plastic bags.

I hope I have covered everything, and please check out my new packing list updated after the hike.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Caring for your feet and legs during your Camino

A lot of pilgrims experience problems with their feet and legs during the Camino. Thankfully, my sister and I just experienced a few blisters, even as we were walking almost 40 kilometers a day towards the end of our walk.  

I think the most important is to first of all have a comfortable, fitting and supportive pair of boots/shoes.  These should be broken in well before the hike. Wear them every day before setting off. I wore my boots for walking around every day for about 2 weeks prior to my walk, but still had some problems for the first week, after which they were quite broken in.  Make sure you have a good pair of hiking socks -- bring 3 pairs, and wash and change them every day. Also, do not bring too much -- a maximum of 10% of your body weight seems to be a good estimate.  I actually used a small kitchen scale to measure every piece of equipment I had -- bringing only the ones with lightest weight and maximum utility.  You need less than you think you need.  During the walk, I carried a 5 to 6 kilo backpack, with about an extra kilo weight once some water and food is inside.

My sister and I were also very careful to prevent foot and leg problems by following some routines every day, as follows:
  • At the end of a day of walking, and before sleeping, take a lot of time to massage your feet, ankles, calves, knees -- even if it does not yet hurt or if it does, wherever it hurts -- preferably with some ointment to get the swelling down.  I used Voltaren gel -- an anti-inflammatory gel -- but not too much as it also has some medicine;
  • Elevate your legs (90 degrees if possible) to rest them before sleeping; 
  • At the start of every walking day, and before putting on your socks and shoes, put some ointment on your feet to prevent blisters.  I used Hirschtalg and Milchfett -- available in Germany -- they are some kind of medical salve/ointment -- I am not sure what the equivalent is in English, though.  If some area still feels swollen, I put a bit of Voltaren gel. My sister used a blister stick salve from Compeed. You can get these along the way in some of the pharmacies; 
  • If you feel some part of your feet chafing or possibly getting the beginnings of a blister, immediately put some Compeed blister tape( I think these are really the most effective-- we tried other blister tapes but they were not as good). If you already have a blister, then drain them at the end of your walking day with a sterilized needle (wipe needle with alcohol or iodine/betadine) or pass a needle with thread through your blister, until all the water drains out, then put betadine. Leave the blister uncovered to dry overnight. Next day, cover up with blister tape again before starting your walk;
  • Bring some support sandals to change into at the end of walking day so as to rest your legs and so as not to constrict your tired feet (I had Tevas); 
  • During your rest stops, any time that your leg/feet areas feel tight or hurt during your walk, stop and do some light stretching. You should also do these at the end of your walking day.  The ones I did were: standing quadricep stretch, hamstring stretch, calf stretch, glute and piriformis stretch, chest stretch (see video:, as well as plantar fasciia stretch (, and standing illiotibial band stretch (
  • Make sure to always hydrate, meaning to drink a lot of liquids -- water or electrolyte drinks. We drank a lot of an electrolyte drink called Aquarius, during rest stops along the way.
If you take good care of your feet and legs from the very beginning of your walk, then I believe you will not have any problems. The routine above helped us a lot during our walk, and I hope it helps you too!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Guides, books and apps for the Camino de Santiago

Update: April 14, 2015!!! Camino Pilgrim app Version 1.7.0! Updated albergues! Weather forecast at each town ( available with any amount of donation)! I have worked so hard on this app and hope to continue doing so, so please just imagine you are treating me to a cafe con leche and a little croissant or maybe even a pilgrim meal along the Way when you donate, I would really appreciate it!

Update: October 20, 2014!!! New and improved Camino Pilgrim Android app - now Version 1.6.0 

Please try this out if you have an Android smartphone! I have come out with the latest version of the Camino Pilgrim,  a new Android app I developed for the Camino de Santiago.  This is an app that can make a personalized schedule for your camino. It contains information on each of the stages, the towns or localities you will pass, as well as the facilities available there.  Also contained in the app are updated information, as of October, 2014 of pilgrim albergues (meaning the ones catering specifically to pilgrims, and not hotels), their locations, contact email and phones (the app allows you to directly email or even call them with the given number).

In this latest version, offline map libraries were updated to make the rendering faster.  You can now also click on the offline map icons to find out the names of the localities and lodgings/albergues.

In Version 1.4.0, I have added a cool new feature! -- an option to Share your location, so you can always let your family and loved ones know exactly where you are, plus information links to useful tips about the Camino.  In Version 1.3.1, I improved the offline maps handling quite a bit!  To use this feature, which allows you to use maps as you walk the camino and even without wifi, you have to first download offline maps for Spain and a portion of France.  You can do this download within the app and while you have a wifi connection.  While the download is ongoing, you can then continue to do whatever you are doing.  With these offline maps, you can check out the Camino trail on your map, find out the albergues close by, and best of all, you can find where you are (by clicking on the Show Location)!  You can leave your heavy books and maps behind, and everything can be in your smartphone!  I have also included German translations.  If someone can help me with the Spanish translations then I could probably provide that too.

Please see my related Camino Pilgrim App Blog which provides tutorials and information on the app usage.  Below is a screenshot of the towns/localities for the Camino Frances using the Google Online Maps, and a sample schedule generated by the app from the base Itinerary -- Camino Frances/Finisterre 35 Days (Pinay Pilgrim).

Update: May 10, 2014!!! New Android app -- Camino Pilgrim!

Please check out  Camino Pilgrim,  a new Android app I developed for the Camino de Santiago.  The latest version, Version 1.21 is available.  This app helps you plan your Camino.  You can look at available itineraries and customize them to suit your schedule, specifying your date of departure.  Locality distances and facilities, lodging details including location and information are also provided in the app.  Locality and lodging information and a simplified Camino trail are shown in online and offline maps.  Using the offline map, you can look at map information even without wifi.  Please see my related Camino Pilgrim App Blog which provides tutorials and information on the app usage.


Before I left for my Camino, I did quite a bit of research on the Internet, and in one of my first blog entries, Helpful links to the Camino, I made a write-up of the most important resources I found online.

After my Camino experience, I am now updating that knowledge.  This current blog entry discusses the guides, books and apps that, to me, are the most useful to bring with you on your trip, should you decide to go on the Camino Frances.

For my Camino, I decided not to bring a guidebook and ended up bringing some looseleaf print-outs of what I thought I would need, and in fact, they contained all the information I needed.  The ones that I ended up using a lot are as follows:
So, yes, you can make do without a guidebook and just follow the yellow arrows as long as you pay very close attention.  The conch shell signs are not always consistent in different areas. Generally, going towards Santiago, the rays point from where you originate from, and the hinge part points toward Santiago (consistent with the idea that Santiago is the end point of your pilgrimage).   In some areas on the Camino Frances, this seems not always followed -- so just double check by looking for the yellow arrows usually under the conch shell or found in other places.  Going to Finisterre from Santiago, the rays point toward Finisterre and the shell hinge toward Santiago (still consistent with the idea of Santiago being the end point).

When there is an alternative route, there are usually signs on the road that give you the available options and distances.  Each option is then signposted as well.  To be extra sure, I had a simple compass (you always head west), and I had an Android smartphone with GPS and a GPS app (Osmand) with offline maps for the area loaded in -- which in the end I did not really use.  I did not turn on the GPS as it used up my phone's battery power.

Although I did not bring a guidebook, I also once in a while peeked into the guidebooks of my fellow pilgrims.  The guidebooks are very comprehensive and contain extra information such as backgrounds, history which are also quite interesting.  The English speakers generally always had the John Brierley book " A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago"(300 grams).  Outstanding and very comprehensive book.  The German speakers either had the Joos and Kasper book "Spanien: Jakobsweg Camino Frances" or the Cordula Rabe book: "Spanischer Jakobsweg".  These are also very good books.  The French speakers had the Miam-miam-dodo Camino 2013 guidebook, which I also took a look at and which contained important information and looked quite light.  A number of other people also had the Michelin guide to the Camino Santiago which seemed the lightest of all (82 grams), and contained basic yet important information.  I was not able to see what the Spanish pilgrims brought as guidebooks -- one of them showed me a printout with descriptions. 

A useful smartphone app that I used was Life 360 which lets you check in your location to inform your family that you are okay.  For my real-time blog, I used the Blogger app for Android which was really easy to use.  I could immediately add pictures from my gallery.  I noticed, however, that to publish your post, you will need to have a really strong wifi signal.

I did not get to use any of the Camino apps I loaded into my smartphone, but I actually looked quite a few times at the Camino app I am currently developing for the  Android environment.  Watch out for it here as I am still fine-tuning the functions.  I hope it will turn out to be useful.   (Update: June 1, 2014. Yes, I finished the app! It is called Camino Pilgrim. See above!)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Follow the Yellow Arrows

If you follow the yellow arrows, there is no getting lost.  You just need to pay attention...


If you are facing in the right direction, all you have to do is keep on walking. 
Buddhist proverb